I would like my brain back, please
February 7, 2011 8:19 PM   Subscribe

I had symptoms of hypothyroid that went away when I started taking vitamins; now they've returned. Is this hypothyroidism or something else?

I always swore I wouldn't ask a medical question on AskMe, but here I am. I know you are not a doctor, and I have access to them, but I'm hoping you can avoid me having to see 8,000 of them.

About a year ago, I started having symptoms that were atypical for me and seemed typical of hypothyroidism:
1. weight gain of about 15 pounds, in sudden chunks of about 3-5 pounds. I've successfully kept off 70 pounds for several years, so I'm well versed in all things diet and exercise. You will just have to trust me when I say it's not a matter of eating less carbs or not counting the calories in the butter I put on my toast. Basically I was eating what should have been maintenance level food, and I was both ravenously hungry and gaining weight. I also had an uncontrollable urge for sweets, always a weakness, but usually something I could control. My diet is mid-range healthy and if anything has gotten better over the years. (No more HFCS, for example.)
2. fatigue. After work, I was ready for bed. I'm in my late twenties.
3. my brain was pudge. I couldn't even make it through a long magazine article without wanting to do something "easy" like check Facebook or something stupid. If I had to do some mental math for a tip or something, I'd just be like, uhhhh, no, don't feel like it..*stare into space*. I'm a reader, but only had the mental energy for TV or movies.

I also had some symptoms that didn't seem as unusual and in my mind could or could not be due to hypothyroidism: low mood (I've suffered from depression in the past. It's been pretty successfully controlled by Wellbutrin for the past few years, but I still have negative thought patterns and sometimes think myself into a funk. Also I've been under stress lately), very dry skin (but central heating can do that a lot), joint pain (perhaps from the weight gain?), sex drive fell (could be from stress), anxiety (always been the anxious type), frequent cold sores on my mouth, which I normally only get when I'm sick (could be from stress)

Hypothyroidism runs in my family on both sides, so I figured I'd go get tested. My PCP said I was borderline, enough to take a low dose of Synthroid: TSH 3rd Generation 4.59. That is the only thyroid test I got. He also said my Vitamin D was low and recommended a supplement: Vitamin D, 25-OH, Total 22. I didn't get my estrogen, progesterone, etc. checked because my periods have always been and continue to be extremely regular, with moderate flow (if anything it's gotten lighter over the years), and just some mild cramping and moodiness for a couple days each month. I get light exercise regularly (lots of walking) but don't do anything more strenuous that often, though that's been the case for several years. I haven't see any other type of doctor. I'm not on hormonal birth control.

So I picked up some Vitamin D capsules because I was worried about osteoporosis, and while I was at it, a multivitamin, since I figured it couldn't hurt. I picked up the Synthroid but didn't take it. I'm not big on meds, but mostly felt sort of guilty -- like maybe I just needed to try harder. Get off the Internet and read a book. Maybe start getting more exercise. Etc. So I wanted to mull over whether to take it, look into whether it was the best med, etc. Then something happened. After starting on the Vitamin D and multivitamin, my symptoms went away fairly quickly. The weight dropped off with little effort from me. My appetite decreased dramatically and the craving for sweets disappeared. I had more physical and mental energy. It was quite a dramatic turn around, and I know it wasn't a placebo effect because I wasn't expecting it. I thought Vitamin D was a wonder vitamin.

But now, a couple months later, the symptoms are coming back. I'm taking the same brand of multi. I did switch brands of Vitamin D, but I upped the dosage in case they weren't as potent as they said. So now I'm puzzled. If it's really hypothyroidism, why would the vitamins help? Does this mean it's something else entirely? I have been reading through the archives, but any additional thoughts are appreciated.

tl;dr I had symptoms of hypothyroid that went away when I started taking vitamins; now they've returned. Is this hypothyroidism or something else?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Textbook Hypo.

Take the synthroid, it makes all the difference in the world. Being female, hormonal changes mimic other diseases, it sounds like you had an unusual surge of balanced hormones with your short interlude of wellness. Is your hair thinning or falling out? That's the only thing you excluded for hypo.

Hope you feel better.
posted by ~Sushma~ at 8:27 PM on February 7, 2011

I had very similar symptoms with Vitamin D deficiency. Actually, I was concerned that I mighthave hypothyroidism because I was always tired, my brain was foggy, and I was gaining weight. I also had serious muscle/joint pain as well (I also thought it was due to the weight gain!). I started taking really serious Vitamin D pills (prescription strength) and my symptoms cleared up within weeks. It was sort of miraculous-seeming!

I was on a regular dose of Vit D for about 6 months, then started having symptoms again about 2 months ago. Turned out my Vit D levels were low again, not surprising, since it's winter. Do you live in the Northern Hemisphere? If so, I'd bet there's a good chance you simply need to up your dose of Vitamin D. I would give it a shot, because if it's that, then managing it is so much easier/less stressful/less expensive than managing hypothyroid.

Good luck! Feel free to PM me with any questions - I know how hellish this can be.
posted by lunasol at 8:46 PM on February 7, 2011

--Hypothyroidism runs in my family on both sides--

I'm not about to launch into a discussion of the downsides from untreated hypothyroidism or accidental overtreatment with something like synthroid; both because I'm not really 'up' on the literature at the moment and because I don't want to harp on the negatives. You have your own google.

But seriously: that family history and the iffy test result last year are very strong indicators that you need to have blood tests -- and likely regularly in an ongoing fashion -- to get to grips with what's happening. Thyroid anomalies produce such a wide variety of symptoms (and they have to be teased out from the other goings on) that it's super important to have the whole show reviewed by a doctor. I would hound my sister to go see a doctor if she told me this story.
posted by peacay at 8:49 PM on February 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

You were tested and a doctor said you were. You took and continue to take some vitamins, and now you hypothyroid symptoms are still going strong. I'm going to say yes, you have hypothyroidism.

But you should probably ask your physician.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:50 PM on February 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Get tested for Hashimoto's thyroiditis as well. That would explain symptoms that wax and wane.
posted by availablelight at 9:22 PM on February 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

i have very low d and take a prescription strength as well. IANAD, but if you're experiencing symptoms at that level, i find it hard to believe OTC vit d results would be that dramatic. (my rx strength is in the tens of thousands per week. don't do this on your own ... only relating for comparison. i think my d went up 20 points after taking this strength for a year and i felt no different.)

i feel like i should still add: i've had the craving/eating symptoms as well, a drug side effect (no more drug, no more compulsive eating of skittles). it's VERY real - and i'm thin, so no diet/exercise to blame. your dr gave you an rx and a diagnosis ... your initial instincts were correct - a dr should be diagnosing you. if you want to contribute, just take notes on how you're feeing/what you're taking each day. then pass the info to your dr.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 9:34 PM on February 7, 2011

Couldn't it have gotten worse? You were low D and also borderline hypothyroid; vitamin D improved things, but that doesn't mean you're not having hypothyroid symptoms now. Seems like you could get another blood test or at least return to your doctor to discuss things (although s/he may well recommend a repeat blood test as well).
posted by Lady Li at 9:39 PM on February 7, 2011

Go back to your GP, confess your woes, get another round of thyroid tests and a referral to an endocrine specialist.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:23 PM on February 7, 2011

The specialist you would be looking for is an endocrinologist, which is a further specialization from internal medicine.

You may as well get your current blood levels of TSH, T3, and T4 so you can walk into that appointment with those results in hand.

I know it wasn't a placebo effect because I wasn't expecting it

You not expecting that specific result doesn't preclude the placebo effect.
posted by yohko at 10:59 PM on February 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Wait, you didn't take the synthroid? If you get retested and get similar results, would you try it this time?
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 1:14 AM on February 8, 2011

Hypothyroidism won't go away with more exercise and vitamins. Generally if you've got it you need to be taking either Synthroid or dessicated animal thyroid for the rest of your life but these are about the most side-effect free drugs imaginable and the health consequences for not taking them are far worse. At this point you should probably get tested again, take the prescription, get tested again after taking it for at least a month and then figure you'll need to get tested annually and have to tweak the dosage from time to time.
posted by leslies at 2:02 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thyroid symptoms can come and go. I can't imagine why you're not taking the Synthroid. If you need it, it will make everything else better. It's not a drug, just replacement of the hormone your body is failing to make, like insulin for diabetes. It hurts both your body and your mind in many ways to avoid taking the thyroid hormone, if it's what you need.

Take the Synthroid an hour before breakfast, every day, or half an hour before breakfast if that's the schedule your doctor recommends. No iron or calcium pills within four hours of it. Take it every single day for six to eight weeks and then have another blood test to see if the dosage is right for you. It's always trial and error, and it takes six to eight weeks for the effects to appear.

Synthroid is not the only brand, and cheaper brands are fine, but always take the same brand. Don't get a refill of a different brand. Different brands are a little different in strength.
posted by Ery at 5:39 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I thought I had a thyroid problem. It turned out that I, too, had a very serious vitamin D deficiency, and I'm also on prescription D. My symptoms were a lot like yours, except my hair was falling out and my periods were messed up, too. Mine is turning out to be related to not-yet-fully-diagnosed food absorption problems.

But it turns out that vitamin D is crucial to thyroid function, which might just explain why a lot of the symptoms are similar. It's possible that supplementing with D, then, improved your thyroid function for a little while, but the progression of thyroid disease has gone beyond what the D can help with. It's also possible that your thyroid function is wonky because of low vitamin D levels caused by something else.

Go back and talk to your doctor, get your thyroid levels re-checked, since the original dosage of synthroid might not be right for you now. Get your vitamin levels checked, too, to see if you need to be on prescription D. The only thing that will really get you answers is going to the doctor, getting the bloodwork done, and then doing what he says will help you.
posted by Andrhia at 6:08 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ok. Let's get something super clear here. You can be borderline with hypothyroidism for years. You can go in and out of symptoms as your body works harder and harder to get your thyroid to do its job. Your symptoms may ease up but it will not clear up. No magic here.

So, put down the denial and get to an endocrinologist. They will check your TSH levels and prescribe you an appropriate does of synthroid. Let me tell you from first hand experience, that shit is life changing. Within two weeks of being on the right dose, my energy levels came up, my moods leveled out and so much changed for the better.

In all honesty, I think some GPs don't realize that the range for treatment was narrowed to 3.0 back in 2003. I was sitting at a 6 and my GP thought I was borderline. I switched GPs and the new one was immediately concerned that I should have been on synthroid for at least 5 years. He got me started on synthroid and 3 months later, when my levels were not down enough, sent me to my endocrinologist. She doubled the amount that I need and it was light a light went on in my life.

Stop messing around and schedule the appointment with the endocrinologist.
posted by onhazier at 6:24 AM on February 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

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